Israeli soldier in fatal shooting of wounded Palestinian begins prison term

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (C-L), who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant in March 2016, is escorted by his mother Oshra (C) while she is draped in an Israeli flag, to attend a hearing at a military court in Tel Aviv on July 30, 2017. Judges rejected an appeal by Azaria, the Israeli sergeant and military medic at the time of the incident, who was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison for shooting dead a prone Palestinian assailant, Israeli media reports said. The reports said military judges also rejected an appeal by prosecutors to increase his sentence. / AFP / AP / AP / Dan Balilty
Updated 10 August 2017

Israeli soldier in fatal shooting of wounded Palestinian begins prison term

RISHON LEZION, ISRAEL: An Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a prone Palestinian assailant in a trial that deeply divided the country arrived alongside motorcycle-riding supporters Wednesday to begin his 18-month prison term.
Elor Azaria, 21, entered the Tserifin military base near the city of Rishon LeZion to begin serving his sentence, his car driven by his father festooned with photographs of him and Israeli flags.
A few dozen supporters waved Israeli flags and chanted Azaria’s name as the car pulled up. Several supporters on motorcycles rode alongside his car along the route, including some wearing leather jackets with “God Bless Israel” on the back.
A smiling Azaria briefly exited the car outside the base but did not speak. His father spoke briefly, saying: “Thank you to the Israeli people,” before driving inside the base’s gates.
In a message posted on social media last week, the French-Israeli said that “I am going to prison with my head held high. I love this country with all my heart. I love the army.”
On July 30, a military court rejected Azaria’s appeal against his conviction for manslaughter and upheld the prison sentence.
He could have appealed to the country’s supreme court, but opted not to after Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman pleaded for him to allow the country to move on.
He has instead requested a reduced sentence from military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, asking for community service instead of prison time.
Azaria can also request a pardon from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, with right-wing leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for it to be granted.
The March 2016 shooting in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron was caught on video by a human rights group and spread widely online.
It showed Abdul Fatah Al-Sharif, 21, lying wounded on the ground, shot along with another Palestinian after stabbing and wounding a soldier, according to the army.
Some 11 minutes after the initial shooting, Azaria shot him in the head without any apparent provocation.
He said he feared Sharif was wearing an explosive belt and could blow himself up, a claim judges rejected.
“His motive for shooting was that he felt the terrorist deserved to die,” Judge Col. Maya Heller said as he read the verdict in January.
Azaria, a sergeant and military medic at the time of the incident, was sentenced in February.
He later appealed the verdict, while military prosecutors asked for an increased sentence after having initially requested between three and five years.
Both requests were refused by military judges.
The trial captivated Israel and highlighted deep divisions in public opinion between those who decry the shooting and those who say it was justified.
Military leaders strongly condemned Azaria’s actions.
However, right-wing leaders including Netanyahu have called for him to be pardoned in an extraordinary public rift between politicians and the military.
Human rights groups pointed to the case as an example of what they call an unequal system of justice for Israelis and Palestinians.
Amnesty International has said Azaria’s sentence does “not reflect the gravity of the offense,” and the UN human rights office said it was an “unacceptable” punishment for “an apparent extra-judicial killing.”
Azaria completed his mandatory three-year military service on July 20 and was moved from confinement to his base to house arrest.
His imprisonment had been postponed pending his appeal.

Majority Arabs want less of Obama approach from Biden, more youth empowerment - poll

Updated 24 min 44 sec ago

Majority Arabs want less of Obama approach from Biden, more youth empowerment - poll

  • YouGov pan-Arab poll commissioned by Arab News late last year had shown Joe Biden as the favored presidential candidate
  • Biden’s advisers would be well advised to heed the views of the region in shaping the administration’s Middle East policy

LONDON: Joe Biden has become the 46th president of the US, having defeated Donald Trump in an election last November whose outcome evidently failed to heal the political rifts plaguing the country. Trump did not attend Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony.

Complicating matters, a worsening coronavirus crisis and heightened security risks cast a shadow over the inauguration, which saw Biden and Kamala Harris take the oath of office respectively as president and vice president.

Read the full report "The Biden Era: What do Arabs expect?" of the Arab News Research & Studies Unit

While Biden will probably have his hands full tackling the pandemic, a sputtering economy and a growing partisan divide, foreign-policy issues are also expected to get high priority, especially considering his long stint as chairman or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As far as the Middle East is concerned, Biden will have his fair share of challenges. Nearly half (49 percent) of the respondents in a pan-Arab survey conducted in late September last year by Arab News in partnership with YouGov, the online polling company, said they believed neither Biden nor Trump was necessarily good for the region.

But that does not mean he cannot break free from the legacy of the Obama administration, in which he served as vice president for two terms. Biden’s advisers would be well advised to listen to the views from the Arab region in shaping the new administration’s Middle East policy.

A majority (58 percent) of the Arab News-YouGov poll’s respondents said Biden should discard the approach to the Middle East of his former boss, Barack Obama. The survey, which questioned people in 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, showed that Obama’s policies remain unpopular among Arabs, who were disappointed by his failure to deliver the “new beginning” he promised during a speech at Cairo University in 2009.

The study — “The 2020 US Elections - What do Arabs want?,” published on Oct. 25, 2020 — also showed that 44 percent of Arabs view youth empowerment as a key driver of global development and believe it should be a priority for the Biden administration.


Nearly half of the respondents in the pan-Arab survey said they believed neither Biden nor Trump was necessarily good for the region. (AP)

Arabs’ disappointment with the Trump administration is understandable. In Jan. 2017, he signed an executive order that banned foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the US for 90 days. The ban suspended entry of all Syrian refugees indefinitely, and prohibited any other refugees from coming into the US for 120 days.

Read the full report "The Biden Era: What do Arabs expect?" of the Arab News Research & Studies Unit

The executive order created an environment of fear among students from Arab countries, driving many to seek higher-education options in Europe. During the first coronavirus lockdown in July, the Trump administration also pushed for the cancellation of all visas issued to international students studying in the US, because they were no longer attending classes in person.

This plan was abandoned following pressure from universities that make millions of dollars in tuition fees from foreign students, and from US companies that often hire highly skilled foreign workers who begin their careers in America after graduating from the nation’s top universities. Biden will not be encumbered by these unpopular Trump decisions and Arabs are unlikely to bear him any ill will in this regard.

That said, there are Trump-era policies that will give Biden a strong leg up in dealing with strategic competitors and malign actors. Take Washington’s approach to Iran. A large proportion of the pan-Arab survey’s respondents — 49 percent in Saudi Arabia, 53 percent in Iraq and 54 percent in Yemen — favored maintaining Trump’s strict sanctions and war posture.

It is notable that respondents in Iraq and Yemen — two countries that have intimate dealings with Iran in the sense that they are overrun with non-state actors controlled by Tehran — were strongly in favor of maintaining a hard line.

The survey did show mixed Arab views on the elimination by the US in January 2020 of Iran’s powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, the head of Quds Force, the division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.

Nevertheless, overall the findings suggested a widespread rejection of President Obama’s strategy of addressing Iran’s ambitions through the 2015 nuclear accord, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while turning a blind eye to its regional plans and expansionist agenda. The nuclear deal was viewed by Israel and Washington’s Arab allies as giving a free hand to the IRGC to create havoc in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon,  and Palestine.

Trump withdrew the US from the JCPOA in 2017 and applied a policy of “maximum pressure” that is widely regarded as having put Tehran on the defensive, both strategically and financially.

Read the full report "The Biden Era: What do Arabs expect?" of the Arab News Research & Studies Unit

The US secretary of state-designate, Anthony Blinken, told his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week that the new administration has “an urgent responsibility” to do what it could to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. He added that a new accord could address Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the region as well as its missiles.

As Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow of Chatham House in London, wrote recently, “Iran has a clear strategy of perpetual war against the US and, through its IRGC proxies, collapsing states, building alternative institutions and gaining control.”

The good news is that Biden does not have to choose withdrawal or capitulation. He has been dealt a strong hand against Iran by Trump which he simply has to play to win, for the sake of the US and its allies and partners, and, in the long term, for the Middle East's security, stability and prosperity.

Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad